Additional musicians: Antony Genn (guitar and bass), Gavin Bryars (piano) and the English Chamber Orchestra
An Evening of Sound and Light in Tribute to La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela
When La Monte Young organised the first ever series of concerts in a New York loft (which just happened to belong to Yoko Ono) the concert announcements were headlined "The purpose of this concert is not entertainment". I thought that this was an appropriate way to present the concert that I put together to benefit La Monte and his partner Marian Zazeela.
I've known La Monte and Marian for a few years now. I first met them when I took part in the exhibition "Pop Goes Art - Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground" that some friends of mine organised in Germany in 1992. I took the opportunity to start recording an interview with La Monte that is still ongoing and so far I have about five hours on tape. We kept in touch and I always try to go over to Europe to see any concerts they do. I've also visited them at their home in New York City. They have a sound and light installation called "Dream House" on the floor above their loft. When Pulp toured America with Blur in 1994 I took Jarvis and Steve down to the "Dream House" straight after the concert and they really liked it.
I know I bore everyone silly by going on about La Monte's music - which I realise just isn't to everyone's taste - but I believe he's a very important artist. He was the first to compose a piece of music that solely consisted of held tones and long rests (paving the way for the Minimalist movement - Riley, Reich, Glass etc.) and his early conceptual works paved the way for happenings and the Fluxus art movement. He led the Theatre of Eternal Music in the early 1960's, pioneering the use of extreme noise levels and introducing the lightshow to live music in the form of Marian Zazeela's light works. John Cale played in this group before forming the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed, and La Monte's avant garde influence is what made the Velvets stand head and shoulders above the rest, and is a key factor in their ongoing influence. La Monte's most highly developed work, "The Well-Tuned Piano", has been called "one of the great monuments of modern culture".
Whilst La Monte and Marian's refusal to compromise in any way is definitely one of the things that made their art what it is, it has also meant that it's very difficult to hear the music (it took me four years from hearing the name to hearing the music), hardly anyone can afford to present their concerts, it makes it difficult for people to work with them and now they find themselves severely in debt. And in September I heard from my friends Carsten and Jutta Brandt in Hamburg that Marian was very ill and had spent about forty days practically paralysed in bed, suffering from lack of energy, numbness in her limbs and incredible back pain. As Marian conducts all of their administration and fund raising activities this meant that their financial situation was becoming impossible. I had the idea of a fund-raising event and asked Alex Poots of the Barbican Centre if he would help. I didn't think for one minute that Pulp would play at the concert and it took me a few days to get up the courage to ask the others, and I was very shocked when they agreed. A few days later and the Barbican offered us free use of the hall and the English Chamber Orchestra on 31st October - only six week.
Just about everyone I asked to play were very keen to take part. First to agree was Jason Pierce of Spiritualized. The concert was in the two weeks rest the group has in the middle of their world tour so he decided to do something different to the usual band concerts. Jason changed his mind nearly every day and 4 or 5 days. Before the show, he had these great plans for a live radio link with Xfm - they would broadcast, some music into the hall, the musicians would play along live and send the sound back to radio creating a delayed loop. He said it was "in the spirit of La Monte's uncompromising attitude", and it was indeed a technical nightmare, and then Xfm dropped out of the project. So in the end Jason appeared with his saxaphone and keyboard players plus a brass section, drummer, bassist, the Monaco String Quartet and the ECO. He's only met six of the musicians before that day and the music they created was fantastic - versions of 'Broken Heart" and "No God Only Religion" from his last album and one new piece. Jason is planning to release a CD of their set. (There's also a chance of the whole concert being released). Gavin Bryars agreed to start the evening with his great work "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet", and he asked me to sit in with his ensemble. I got worried when I sat down to learn the score but it all turned out well in the end. The English Chamber Orchestra performed "Crossing the Border" by the English post-minimalist composer Steve Martland. That piece was originally released on the Factory Classics label and Factory impresario Tony Wilson arrived at the last minute to be the evening's compere. Tony also auctioned some t-shirts and posters that had been donated by Kraftwerk (they said they would love to perform but needed at least a year's notice!). Nick Cave and violinist Warren Ellis were the last addition to the programme but turned out to be one of the night's highlights when Nick sang and played solo piano songs.
As a group, Pulp were quite nervous about playing live again - it had been a long time since we last did a concert (and Russell had left in the meantime), so we just weren't very sure of ourselves, we decided to play all new songs and do it in a manner we thought befitted the event and the venue. Anthony Genn helped out with some guitar chords, Gavin Bryars played piano on "This is Hardcore" and the ECO joined us on "Hardcore" and "Love Scenes" ("Seductive Barry"). I started our concert with three drones on e-bow guitars - kind of an acknowledgement of La Monte's "Composition 1960 #7" - and we ended the evening with "Help The Aged".
We had originally wanted to include a live performance of a La Monte Young composition in the programme but when that became impossible we decided to show segments of video, one of La Monte performing "The Well Tuned Piano" and one from a concert with his Forever Bad Blues Band. La Monte and Marian also sent a video message of thanks. Spring Heel Jack were on tour in the USA but they composed and pre-recorded "Two Small Pieces For La Monte Young", the first of which was accompanied by a specially commissioned video by Paul Catling. Terry Riley, who performed a benefit concert in New York the week before, sent a recording of his piece "Eastern Man". Last but not least, very late in the day we recieved a telephone message from Yoko Ono (who seemed to think the occasion was La Monte's birthday!). It provided some light relief for the audience as not only was it practically impossible to make out any words, she kept pausing and everyone thought it had finished so there were little bursts of applause and laughter every few sentences. It was kind of Fluxus. Tony Wilson said that now we knew how all the Beatles felt!
I hope the audience enjoyed the concert, and maybe discovered some new things. The reviews were all terrible (with the exception of "The Wire") but those journalists were idiots and we don't do anything to please them. I'm sorry we didn't give you all advance notice on the concert - it was organised very quickly and we decided to be very careful about the way it was publicised. We didn't want anyone to buy an expensive ticket thinking they were going to see a new Pulp concert and then be disappointed - some of the music was quite difficult and we only played for twenty minutes.
Although it involved a lot more work than I imagined, I'm really pleased we all did this special event and I'm so grateful to everyone who was involved. The effort that everyone made really raised La Monte and Marian's spirits and in the meantime Marian has been feeling much better and getting back to work, but they still don't know what was causing the pains and numbness and are obviously worried in case it returns. The real good news is that we've raised about £20,000 and it's on its way to New York right now, and next year I'm going to be working with them on plans to start releasing recordings from their huge music archive.
If you would like to know more about La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela then check out their website ator write to them at Mela Foundation, 275 Church Street, New York, NY10013, USA. (Please enclose an IRC for reply).
You know the scene in "The Fisher King" where Grand Central Station becomes a ballroom and strangers dance together at rush hour? It could almost have happened at the Barbican before tonight's benefit for Marian Zazeela, the partner of New York-based experimental composer La Monte Young, who is severely ill and facing rising hospital bills.
Despite the fact Pulp are appearing live for the first time in 15 months, we have been told this is not a Pulp gig so many times that the words almost make us dizzy. Seems like the million Jarv lookee-likees here know otherwise; there's so much nylon rubbing against the plush Barbican seats, you make a mental note not to touch anything metal for fear of electrocuting yourself.
Finally, after more over-our-heads bits and bobs, Pulp troop across the expanse of stage watched over by the English Chamber Orchestra, who are again lending a helping hand. Dressed in a crap brown suit, shiny shirt and Seventies sunglasses, Jarvis looks very Vegas. And this is showtime. Performing three tracks from their new album, it would seem Pulp have been inspired by their James Bond-rejected tune, "Tomorrow Never Lies". "Seductive Barry" takes a ride on the John Barry train and sounds more rounded than your usual Pulp fare - smoother somehow, more relaxed. When the ECO strike up with a sweep Sooty would be proud of, you know Pulp mean business in 1998. "This Is Hardcore", possibly the album's title track, treads more familiar territory. Huge, it is. Enormous. A swirling, orchestral monster.
After a quick canter - sans orchestra - through "Help The Aged", Pulp are away, but not before Jarvis offers some useful advice: "Don't get caught by any skunks on the way home." Too late mate, we've already had our share of stinkers tonight. As for it not being a Pulp gig? My arse. They stole the show. But what did you expect?